I want you to take a few minutes to write down all the technology platforms and apps you use at work to accomplish your tasks—no matter how large or small a role they play. Go ahead, I’ll wait.
In doing this exercise myself, I found that on an average day I switch between 10 different technologies, and that doesn’t include LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, Outlook, Word, PowerPoint or Excel. (This list also doesn’t account for the sundry platforms I’ve tested and decided not to adopt into my daily routine.) Despite the popular opinion that technology is making us more productive, it’s just as likely to cause us paralysis at critical moments—especially for those of us in public relations.
Technology overload and its associated stresses are very real. We receive anywhere from 200 to 500 plus work messages on different platforms every day. And COVID-19 has only accelerated this. With almost all forms of workplace communication now technologically facilitated it is hard to switch off. We are paranoid we are going to miss something on the many platforms we are using and become exhausted staring at a screen all day from one place. Even as we start to head back into the office, technology will continue to transform business models, client expectations, communication channels and what it takes to be successful in PR. So, what do we do about it?
One of the biggest questions agencies need to tackle is how to manage technology-induced stress. How can we work the technology to ensure that the technology isn’t working us? In order to ensure we are managing our employees’ technology well-being, we need to establish standards that prioritize simplicity.
Establish a tech committee
Tech overload can often be attributed to the fact that multiple platforms are activated across an agency without proper consultation and with an apparent inability to understand varying comfort levels. To have a healthy co-existence with technology, we need to be more inclusive.
An important positive step toward addressing technology overload is to establish a technology committee that can filter out the noise, ensure the right technology is implemented, communicate it properly across the organization, and adapt it according to feedback.
By putting in place a committee that includes power users, average users and multiple job levels, an agency can better determine which technology platforms to activate, the ease with which employees will be able to work within them, and any potential challenges the technology may present. It also ensures that agencies aren’t overinvesting in yet another tool that duplicates an existing investment.
Communicate and collaborate with IT
Raise your hand if your IT department has ever implemented a new technology or process without any prior notification. Yep, mine too. Organizations need to make a better effort to involve the impacted workforce at all levels, early in the process and throughout the process. To do this, it’s important for your technology committee to establish a direct feedback loop with your organization’s IT department.
The feedback loop will provide a safe space for employees to ask questions and understand why a certain technology is being rolled out. Those questions may include: What positive benefits can staff expect to gain from the new solution? Is this technology redundant? What is the learning curve? And are our employees tech-savvy enough for this?
Set boundaries to promote a healthy relationship with technology
To ensure employees have a healthy relationship with workplace technology, it’s important that organizations look for tech solutions that minimize the constant stream of interruptions employees face daily. Notifications are part of the problem—just think about the emails, chats, social media alerts, upcoming meetings, declined meetings, calls and text messages you likely receive in a given day. As technology becomes more present in our daily lives, employees must be able to establish personal guidelines that promote a healthy relationship with the technology they use.
In PR, we’ve adopted an always-on mentality and feel a need to be available at all times for our clients. I understand this mentality, as PR is a service industry, but it has led to more employees ignoring their personal and technological health. We have become so used to checking in, that we have forgotten how to check out.
To prevent this, agencies should encourage employees to adapt new positive behaviors—like starting their day by writing down their priorities rather than catching up on emails, turning off notifications between certain hours, checking or sending emails at established points throughout the day, or finding times to completely disconnect from technology.
Admit there’s a problem—and many potential solutions
Before we address technology overload, we must first acknowledge it. Only then can we simplify our approach and dedicate the resources to understanding the technology we use, how comfortable employees are with it, and what guidelines will ensure it’s not introduced haphazardly.
There’s no avoiding technology in today’s communications world, but that doesn’t mean we have to sacrifice our sanity at the expense of keeping up with the latest technologies. Eventually, technology overload will burn us out and there will be a larger issue to address—lost productivity—the very issue technology was supposed to address.
Joseph Giumarra has more than a decade of public relations experience in the B2B, B2C, nonprofit, technology, and environmental sectors. As associate vice president at Red Havas, he has led award-winning international projects that drive brand stories forward, amplify the importance of societal issues, and elevate executive profiles.